Runner’s high is an intense feeling of elation following exercise. It is the result of chemical reactions in the brain and body during prolonged periods of exercise.

Read on to find out more about what causes runner’s high and which hormones play a role, as well as the benefits of running.

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Runner’s high is a pleasurable sensation that a person experiences when engaging in extended periods of aerobic exercise.

Runner’s high is an intense boost of happiness and pleasure following a prolonged period of exercise. During this experience, some people may also feel a reduction in levels of pain and stress.

Depending on the person, the experience of runner’s high may occur 30 minutes into exercise or not until an hour after starting. This time frame is likely dependent on how regularly a person runs and their level of endurance.

Although people typically associate the feeling with running, many other forms of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, swimming, and rowing, may offer a similar sensation.

The reason for runner’s high is unknown, but an evolutionary theory regarding this experience suggests that it is a bodily function to increase a person’s chances of survival.

In prehistoric times, to get out of a dangerous situation, it was necessary for a person to escape quickly. It is possible that the positive sensation of runner’s high helped humans run longer and faster while masking the pain of exhaustion.

The trigger of a runner’s high is the brain releasing certain chemicals and hormones. Some of these chemicals include:


The brain produces endorphins that act as opioid receptors. The release of endorphins has many positive effects on the body, including:

  • reduction in pain
  • boost in happiness and pleasure
  • reduction in stress and anxiety
  • reduction in symptoms of depression


Researchers exploring runner’s high in mice concluded that running activated their brain’s endocannabinoid system. Activation of the endocannabinoid system also occurs when people consume cannabis.

Cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the “high” that people can experience when consuming the drug. The THC activates the endocannabinoid system.

The research suggests that this system may also play a part in creating the sensation of runner’s high. However, more research is necessary to determine whether the same system becomes activated in humans.


Older research suggests that exercise activates the same reward pathways in the brain that become activated in people who experience drug use disorders. The effects on mood are due to an increase in the hormone dopamine in the pathways.

Due to this similar activation, novel research is also exploring the potential of using running as an additional therapeutic tool for individuals who may be experiencing drug or alcohol use disorders.

Some anecdotal evidence indicates that it is possible to become addicted to the sensation of runner’s high. If this occurs, a person may attempt to keep achieving the runner’s high by running faster or for longer periods.


Leptin is a hormone that regulates feelings of hunger and satiety. Some research suggests that leptin may also play a part in the sensation of runner’s high.

When the researchers looked at mice, they noted that those with reduced levels of leptin ran more miles on a running wheel than those with average leptin levels.

One of the conclusions of this study is that mice with less leptin were more likely to experience the sensation of runner’s high.

The researchers link these findings back to evolutionary theory. They suggest that when leptin levels are low, this increases a person’s motivation to run to pursue food. This increase in motivation may make it easier for a person to experience runner’s high.

More research is necessary to explore how leptin may affect runner’s high in humans.

Regular running can provide a range of benefits to a person’s overall health. Some of these include:

  • Decreased risk of mortality: Research suggests that running can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, a systematic review suggests that participating in running may improve both health and longevity.
  • Weight loss: An older study states that running instead of walking can lead to a more significant change in weight loss.
  • Improves mental health: Running in a group may help improve mood symptoms in adults and youths experiencing complex mood disorders. Another study looking at people with a high genetic vulnerability to depression found that those who were physically active were less likely to have depressive episodes.
  • Lowers cholesterol: High intensity aerobic exercise, such as running, may decrease cholesterol levels.
  • Improves sleep: Although further research is necessary, there is some evidence to suggest that running may help improve a person’s quality of sleep.

While running has many benefits and is generally safe, it may not be the best form of exercise for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions.

For example, people with any type of cardiovascular or respiratory disease should seek medical advice before starting to run or increasing the intensity of exercise.

Excessive, frequent, or vigorous running may also result in complications, such as injury or overheating.

Health experts warn that 1 in 3 recreational runners experience at least one injury and that roughly 75% of these injuries involve the lower legs. Runners may also be more prone to groin and back injuries.

Runners can reduce the risk of injury or other complications by:

  • stretching and warming up with moderate-to-light intensity exercise
  • maintaining hydration before, after, and during workouts
  • wearing appropriate clothing for running
  • stopping running if it no longer feels good
  • setting realistic goals for the run
  • avoiding running on unsuitable surfaces
  • refraining from running if any injuries have not healed
  • running in well-lit, safe public areas
  • running with a friend or cellphone or letting others know about the intended route and time frame

Runner’s high is a pleasurable sensation that a person experiences when engaging in extended periods of aerobic exercise. Some people may experience it sooner after starting to exercise than others.

Activation of the endocannabinoid system and certain hormones, such as endorphins and leptins, may play a part in creating the sensation of runner’s high.

Running carries many other health benefits, including weight loss, a decreased risk of mortality from certain illnesses, and improved mental health.